OP-EDS

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February 23, 2006

America: Isolation leads only to decline

During this year’s State of the Union address, President George Bush made a gratuitous number of references to “isolationists and protectionists.” At the time it seemed like he was merely building a straw man with which he could easily repeat the same points on the war on terror that he has made since 9/11. In the context of recent events, America’s historically isolationist and protectionist tendencies are becoming more realized—an unacceptable trend.

One has to look no further than the sham of a political scandal this week over Dubai Ports—a United Arab Emirates (UAE)-owned port management company—taking over the British-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, which happens to manage ports across the U.S. News of this prompted politicians to suddenly remember that they are worried about American port security. As a result, many are now calling for a halt to the takeover, even though the takeover has absolutely no implications for port security. The port management company’s responsibilities are limited to marketing the port, hiring labor, loading ships, and moving cargo. The Coast Guard, Homeland Security, and harbor police (which are run independently of the management company) are those tasked with securing our ports. Based on the rationale of many politicians, by allowing the Dubai-based Emirates Airlines to fly into the U.S., we are “outsourcing America’s security.”

But as unsavory as this whole incident has been, propositions to keep foreigners out of the U.S. and the U.S. out of the rest of the world are likely to be made repeatedly in next year’s midterm elections. This is because many of the staunchest Bush supporters—and thus supporters of nearly all he does—are those most prone to isolationism and protectionism. They are the conservatives who want to vigorously protect American interests. But when they see internationalism as failed wars in the Middle East and free trade as lost jobs at home, they are likely to be open to rethinking what is the best path of protecting American interests. As a result, many politicians—especially Democrats—are looking to woo this group. This would explain why many of the most liberal Democrats (Chuck Schumer and Rosa DeLauro) have joined some of the most conservative Republicans (Lindsey Graham and Tom Coburn) in denouncing this deal. But this is not a new trend. Last summer, this same group killed the purchase of the California based Oil Company Unocal by a state owned Chinese firm and nearly killed the Central American Free Trade Agreement until the President saved it with some last minute lobbying.

Not only has this group been wedded exclusively to terrible ideas, but they have perpetuated the dangerous proposition that foreigners need approval from Congress to do business in or with the United States. As a result we have come off as jingoistic hypocrites. While we demand that the world open its markets, we try to close ours off to to Latin America, Asia (don’t forget India and the outsourcing clamor two years ago), and the Arabian Peninsula. We can’t possibly continue to play the world like this. Even though it might offer short-term political advantages, politicians have to consider the long-term consequences of their actions. I never thought I would say this, but Bush was spot-on when he said, “the road to isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting—yet it ends in danger and decline.” Washington needs to realize that our relationship with the rest of the world is a two-way street; and when we start blocking that, others will only follow in kind.